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SUMMER AT THE CENTRE

JUNE – JULY, 2021

This is an update on May and June at the MBSNS centre. Along with the regular study, Dhyan, and sports, the highlights for this month included a workshop for children on understanding good and bad touch and a parents learners (facilitators and students) meeting.

Focus on learning languages


The Hindi Class – In April, children started with reading simple Hindi text and learning to write summaries. In May and June, they began engaging with the language in new ways. Children prepared a song in Hindi, which they chose from the songs they had heard at the centre. They prepared the song ‘tu zinda hai toh zindagi ki jeet mein yakin kar’.  They also prepared a play with Abhimanyu’s help. It had been over a month since the children moved into the centre, and they started missing their parents. Due to the covid protocol, children were not allowed to meet the parents while at the centre. Although they were allowed to call home on Sundays, a new activity of writing letters to the family was also initiated. Engaging in these activities gave children a sense of achievement, which they could be proud of. Their previous engagement around learning was restricted to just reading and writing, which did not give them that sense of achievement.

In these months, some concepts of grammar were also introduced like सर्वनाम and विशेषण (pronouns and adjectives). At the same time, working on phonetics is a continuous process as few sounds in regional language are quite intermixed in pronunciation like र (Ra) and ड (Da), स (Sa) and श (Sha).


The English Class- In April children learned the basics of phonetics and vocabulary building exercises in English. We made our first phonetic videos and completed all 26 alphabets by June.

In May and June, the two-hour English slot was reorganized into three parts – immersion songs, the introduction of a new concept, and reading or writing groups or games (depending on what children chose).

The children have come a long way since April. When they came to the centre, they knew alphabets and could read three-letter words without understanding the meaning. In these last two months, they now sing along a selection of 6 songs displayed on a projector screen. This repertoire of songs has 3-4 nursery rhymes like Old Mac Donald had a farm, to anthems like Imagine (by John Lennon), what a wonderful world (Louis Armstrong), the sound of silence (Simon & Garfunkel), and action songs like Ram sum sum. These two months focused on understanding and learning nouns, pronouns, verbs, prepositions, and other parts of speech through fun and interesting activities like charades and other games.


Parents Learners (Facilitators- students) meeting (PLM)

13th June was a special day. It was the first parents meeting at the centre. In some cases, both parents could not come due to financial constraints. For example, Jaikrishnaji could not come because he had to tend to the mango orchard, which they have leased this year. Reeta Devi and Hareram Bhaiya had similar financial constraints, while Sanjay Paswan has migrated to Bengal for work. In other cases, younger siblings came, enthusiastic and clingy, curious about their older sibling’s new home – The Centre.

The centre facilitators shared their idea of holistic education with the parents. Abhimanyu emphasized the need for parents to interact with teachers and caregivers, as this provided a two-way interaction and allowed for a common aim for their children. He shared how all children were bright and a joy to work with. He also reiterated that children enjoyed learning and there was more to learning than just memorization. Mithun further talked about the schedule at the centre and how each child followed the same and sometimes went over and above the schedule putting in additional shram daan (manual work) or study hours. He talked about pedagogy and interactions with respective teachers of English, Hindi, Maths, Science, and Computers. Sangeeta talked about children’s well-being and different learning styles.

Everybody, including children, parents, and facilitators, introduced themselves. This was followed by a skit that children had prepared as part of their Hindi class. Over the last two months, older children have written stories in their English class, which was also typed in their computer class. Each child chose one story which they read in English and then explained in Hindi. This was followed by the children giving their parents a copy of the compilation of stories named “Our First Book” and a letter each child had written to their parents in Hindi class. This session ended with children singing the song “tu zinda hai to zindagi ki jeet men yakeeen kar.”

After the children left, the parents and caretakers sat for an open session, in which parents gave their feedback and discussed their children’s wellbeing at the centre. Most were very happy to see that their children had adjusted well and did not want to leave the centre to go home. They were also impressed by the confidence they saw in their children. All of them were convinced they wanted their children to continue at the centre. We also discussed holidays and the academic calendar, emphasizing that we did not want children to take frequent leaves. Parents suggested holidays during the festive season, and together we have worked out a holiday calendar till 15th March 2022. Mandavi, one of the mothers asked if all parents should contribute to the running of the centre and it was decided that each would do what they can. For example, those who were daily wage labourers would try and give sharm daan at the centre; those with more stable incomes would try contributing financially; and those with farming would contribute in kind.

The Personal Safety Workshop

On 9th June, we organized a workshop on personal safety facilitated by Mithun and Abhimanyu. The workshop used a module from Arpan, aimed at preventing child sexual abuse. It introduced the idea of good and bad touch and explained the need to reach out for help from adults in their trusted circle.

Tree Plantation

Love is a special quality that children have, and their love has no boundaries. This thought is beautifully captured in a famous Hindi song “जो भी प्यार से मिला हम उसी के हो लिए” (becoming one with everyone who meets us with love). The centre has a patch for planting trees and a small plot marked for farming. From the very first day, children have loved the idea of planting, watering, and caring for plants. They have also found different levels of connections with the stray dogs, who have found a home at the centre, by petting, feeding and hugging them. This is their silent connection with nature – plants and dogs. A world dominated by the anthropocentric view has made nature peripheral to our existence; we hope children growing up at the centre will be able to find their connection with nature. It is with this thought in mind that children were part of a plantation drive this monsoon, taking ownership and responsibility of attending to one tree they planted.

And so it goes on … learning in and out of classrooms. In the spirit of holistic education, children continue to engage with physical exercises, sports like athletics, kho kho and kabaddi in the evening, and Dhyan. Though mostly the everyday shram daan involves cleaning and working in the field and caring for trees on campus, but sometimes children find creative ways of doing shram daan. For instance, Rani decided to be the centre barber, styling children’s hair. Not only was it a creative pursuit but it also meant we could limit the outside exposure of the centre inhabitants during these COVID-19 times- one hairstyle at a time!

We are available at Abhimanyu (9460969188) ashekhawat.16@stu.aud.ac.in kamayani (9771950248) kamayani02@yahoo.com, mbsnsbihar@gmail.com

June, 2022 – Monsoon preparation at the Jeevanshala

June is the beginning of heavy rainfall in Araria. Thus we decided to construct a brick pathway inside the center. Children constructed this pathway in their morning shramdaan.

Early in the month we had an intense discussion with Nasir bhai a Journalist and an old friend of the Jeevanshala. Nasir bhai started the discussion with ‘What do you want to become in life ?’ Children came up with interesting replies and then the discussion went into introspection of their choice.

Nasir Bhai with the children

Sex education is an integral part of learning at the Jeevanshala. We revisited the earlier discussion about good and bad touch reiterating the safety rule.

We continued learning with nature. There is a forest area nearby and some classes are conducted under its shady trees.

Learning in Jeevanshala is done through lots of hands on activities and ‘learning by doing’. This month included the introduction of a sentence making board game. Also in Mathematics, while learning about measurement, we used a measuring tape to learn the actual or approximate lengths so as to get idea of real measurements in day to day life.

End of summer Break, preparation for learning

Post the summer break, all of us met and greeted each other with love and hugs. After the initial get together, everyone got into a frenzied cleaning spree – fans, almirahs, carpets were brushed, rooms and floors were scrubbed clean and we got started. This was a great management feat on the part of the children, who assigned and distributed tasks themselves and were fully responsible for the entire cleaning spree.

Next day, all teacher learners (TL) sat down for planning their respective subjects. New Mathematics classes were started at Ambedkar Nagar Center. May also saw a lot of visitors bringing a lot of learning for children. Three interns from the Azim Premji University (APU) visited our center. They discussed with the children about the beauty of regional and cultural diversity around food habits, clothing, language etc. Satyendra, a Dalit Youth activist, associated with CSEI and the national Youth Forum, spent an evening with the children and played a game together where th children had to introduce themselves with an imaginative story. Creating stories at the moment and adding funny imagination to them was fun.

April, 2022 – The summer Break for learning

We had an almost 45 day break this summer, in which the Teacher Learners (TL) team along with senior group students visited the Nature camp at jeolikot (Naital, uttarakhand). Our generous host Paras Bhai, made it a most memorable experience for all of us. But before we go into this beautiful story, we must let you know that while we were away in the HImalayas on a learning expedition, our team back in Araria, made infrsatructural advances, to welcome the new students we were planning to bring on campus, in the months of May-June.

The much awaited trip to Nainital …

If u remember, in November 2021 we had told you about Paras and Shurti’s visit to Araria. They invited us to their Nature Camp, Camp Sparrow, in Jeolikot, Nainital. We were all very enthusiastic and excited about the visit. Here is a small photo update on our trip, which ended with a day well spent in Delhi.

Boating trip in Nainital

Clockwise: Walk to the Arboretum; Starting the day with a healthy drink; With the forester, at the Arboretum; Interaction at the local school and finally a walk through the arboretum with the local school children.

The day ended with a sombre and ebautiful musical evening.. here is a short clip of the jugalbandi by Paras Bhai on the guitar and Gaurav Bhai on the tabla.

And with the halt in Delhi, our trip came to an end and we boarded seemanchal express to Araria.

March 2022 – An Academic Year ends

While studying about circuits and electricity in our senior class, we looked at ways of connecting this to our day to day life. Around this time, we found out that Adil, a youth volunteer who used to visit the centre, knew how to fix LED bulbs, so we requested him to do a workshop with our children. Adil in action …

Classes, went full steam in March, as this was the last month of the first academic year at the centre, so much so that the centre was not closed even for Holi. We just spent a day or two celebrating Holi and also rethinking the rituals. So we avoided chemical colours played our traditional “dhurkhel”, a local custom of playing with mud and dust (dhool). We also performed “holika dahan” in which we all lighted a small fire, wrote one thing in us that we wanted to change and burnt it in the fire.

Somewhere in the middle of March, the Bihar Government decided that it wanted to do an assessment of all children across classes enrolled in Government schools. In reality what happened was that assessment was conducted like exams, with cheating, tension and pressure 😦 Our children appeared for their exams as well. Here is a glimpse into March on the field and in the class 🙂

Senior group children from the centre, sing a song at the Bhagat Singh Jayanti celebrations in Araria.

February, 2022 at the Jeevanshala

One of the most exciting exercises to happen at the centre, for our children, was the mask making workshop. The senior students, were given a small training on making masks, from old newspapers, by cultural activist Jitendra Paswan. Jitendra is a former Sarpanch from Katihar and also Secretary of the JJSS. He is active with social causes. Here is one scene, captured over a few photos…

Given the marginalised background our children come from, most of them are first generation literates, with meagre economic and social resources, they may or may not excel academically, but they are turning out to be fine human beings. This was confirmed when I saw this beautiful act of care. Rani came back from the playing field, where little Shahzad and fallen. She applied first aid and took care of Shahzad. Rani is the senior most student. She is to appear for her eighth standard exams this year and pass out of the Centre 🙂

February, marked the reopening of the centre in full strength. Here are glimpses into the classroom, under the mango tree, or in the four walls that also make classes 🙂

As we can see in the photos above, the “ganitmala” is an integral part of our basic maths classes. Clockwise: shahzad works on the “ganitmala”; the class in the shadow of the “ganitmala”; Siddhi works on the “ganitmala”; Maths assessment being done by TL Priyanka.

The winter is no deterrent to our shramdan, children working along with Arun ji, to protect the peepul tree planted behind the centre.

In our attempts at bringing the infrastructure up to the mark, we made an accidental sand pit, out of our centre. As the workers dug the centre land to make a septic tank, what came out was very sandy soil. We decided to layer the centre with this sandy soil during our “sharmdan”. Children made the sandy soil their free play sand pit 🙂

A Happy Begining – January, 2022

Post a small christmas celebration, we took a very short winter cum year end break. As we readied to reopen the centre, the covid scare was back and Bihar Government closed down Government schools. We decided that though we would not call the younger students, we would call the 5 senior group students and we, the TL (Teacher-Learner) team picked up our books, to strengthen our learning.

We watched Meera Nair’s Queen of Katwe, the week after we started playing chess. Soon we realised that once all children were back on campus, we would need more boards and plastic boards would be too flimsy, so we decided to get boards made by our local carpenter, and we painted ourselves, a chess board, two boards of snakes and ladders and one board of ludo.

As we started a Non Formal Education (NFE) centre in the neighbouring mohalla of our centre, the TL team discussed the idea of volunteering at the centre with the five senior students on campus, all students were excited by the idea and what followed was a beautiful give back to the community. Some photos below.

Anand leads a game
Exhilerated – A shot of Rani and Anand at the NFE centre

This period was a chance to focus more on the learnings of the senior group. While doing our electricity chapter, we were amazed when our students who were asked to sketch switches, came with 6-8 illustrations of switches. They also were enthused by the idea of making various circuits and trying out what worked and what din’t. Science is doing!

With a septic tank, which had collapsed, and a missing boundary, a lot of January, also went into developing the centre’s basic infrastructure, and getting a proper septic tank with a sokhta in place.

Year End at the Jeevanshala, December, 2021

These two photos have a special meaning for us. Its been about eight months that boys and girls on the campus have been playing football together and then we heard that their would be a woman’s football match, in Araria itself. All children went with their Physical education TL (teacher learner), Biswajit and Abhimanyu.

December, was made even more exciting for the children, by a group of bikers, driving across araria towards the North East, kindly agreed to visit our centre. Shrey who was travelling solo from Delhi to Kalimpong, on his motorcycle, stopped at the centre with, Unais and Basith, two young men travelling from Kerala to the North East. The children were fascinated and excited to hear about their travel experiences. The bikers also let all children across gender and age, mount their bikes and have a photo shoot 🙂

Sakshi, is our youngest. She is a day scholar and comes in everyday with her older sister. She may be five or six. She usually sits in with the basic one class. No one is forced to write alphabets, but their are games in which children learn to identify words. One of the game favourites is the word “TREE”. So, all children went around writing tree on sheets and sticking it to a tree on the campus. Later when all children were gone to their classes, i saw Sakshi sitting by herself, writing TREE for herself, to stick to a tree she likes 🙂 Learning comes with freedom, not force. Thank you for reiterating this lesson SAKSHI!

And 2021 closed for a short few days, to celebrate the year end and winter break, but before that we did a little christmas celebration by singing along with rudolf the red nosed reindeer and jingle belwa.

November, 2021 at the Jeevanshala

After the festive break in October, the Jeevanshala reconvened in November. The Teacher Learner (TL) team, was excited to try out all the beautiful things we had learned on our trip to Bhopal. Here is a glimpse of November.

Another beautiful thing that happened at the JS in November, was a visit by Manoj, Shruthi and Paras. While Manoj works with a corporation in the USA, and hails from Bihar, Shruti and Paras are young environmentalists. Paras is also an environmental photographer and film maker. One can check out his work at https://www.youtube.com/c/ParasRajBoraFilms Their interaction with the children, really enthused them and Shruthi didi and Paras Bhaiya, said they would have the children over at their place in Nainital (Uttarakhand).

Interacting with Shruthi and Paras
PARAS SHOWS ONE OF HIS FILMS FROM THE UTTRAKHAND HILLS AND TALKS ABOUT THE ECOLOGICAL ISSUES FACING US

Like every month, sharamdaan, classes in english, hindi, maths and science continued, along with sports and zumba.

Clockwise: a play of light and shade on the children’s books; On the field in their new winter clothes; classroom in the open

The October, 21 Holiday for the Jeevanshala

Though the centre officially, closed in the first week of October. The Teacher Learner (TL) Team, went to Bhopal for the first exposure visit. Please do browse below for a short photo update of October at the Jeevanshala.

L-R : Discussion on Gandhi Jayanti, captured on the board cloud; Special Shramdan – Senior students make pooris, while others enjoy the cooking together, something so missing in the gendered Indian kitchen; Discussion on learning with friends from Thanal, Kerala, which is started a learning centre in Araria, for marginalised children.

Before the festive season started, Nani visited the centre and spent time making sandwiches with the children, planting trees, playing and story telling, just learning through FUN!

The Bhopal trip was a real eye opener for the TL group. We finally got a glimpse of learning in an organised, systematic play way method, as against the rote learning method. We can’t thank the Muskan and Eklavya Teams enough.

September, 2021 at the Jeevanshala

The idea that we all learn from each other is beautifully illustrated below, where students help each other learn the making of brooms from palm frond. A skill only a few teacher learners (TL) have.

Our children are fascinated with colours, for them a cat on paper is not the usual boring browns, whites, but all the above 🙂

One jungle walk behind the centre, in the jungle vibhag, has many things to contribute to children’s learning. Nature heals and teaches, and when we came back from it our children made a herbarium and put words they used to describe things in the jungle, with english and hindi words, increasing their vocabulary.

Shram daan can take many forms. Children, clean their rooms, and common spaces, as part of their daily shramdan. In August when we started preparing the computer room their shramdan was in the form of carrying mud bricks and brining down a large wall. This month it came as carrying bricks for finalising the computer room and also as cleaning masalas, and showing them the sun, along with their regular shram daan duties.

We always welcome visitors to the Jeevanshal, and this month Azad bhai and his friend who work in the jail bureaucracy dropped in to chat with the children. They asked if anyone had seen a jail and phut came the reply “i have been there”. This was eleven year old Siddhi, who had been sent to jail with her mother and other family members. Soon we got to know that almost four of our students have been in jail, in similar situations. A sad telling of how things work for the poor and marginalised.